ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

1 April 2002


1. Farmers move to block modified wheat
2. more on India's science fraud


1. Farmers move to block modified wheat
CBC News, 29 Mar 2002

SPALDING, SASK. - Genetically-modified wheat won't be ready to plant for three years, but two organic farmers in Saskatchewan already fear it will kill their business.

They're suing the bio-tech company Monsanto to prevent the introduction of the wheat. They say other modified crops have already harmed their businesses, and that modified wheat will be the final straw.

"I need to stop what's happening basically because it's affecting my livelihood," said Larry Hoffman of Spalding, Sask.

He fears modified seeds from neighbouring farms will blow onto his fields and contaminate his crops. That's already happening with canola, he said.

"Genetic engineers have grossly underestimated the sex drive of plants," says Ann Clark from the University of Guelph. "They cross with each other."

Genetically-modified wheat will be sold only if governments approve it, according to Monsanto, and the product won't ready for three years. The company's Web site argues that biotechnology allows reduced use of pesticides.

Last summer, a letter endorsed by more than 200 groups - including the Canadian Wheat Board and Saskatchewan Association of rural Municipalities - asked Ottawa to delay approval of GM wheat. They demanded that all economic, safety, environmental and regulatory concerns be addressed first.

The Wheat Board said its customers don't want genetically-altered wheat.


2. more on Indian government's science fraud:

"Against all scientific norms, the variety was approved on the basis of the data of one year only. Even this data is suspect as the government has refused to make the data public for independent scrutiny. This period of Bt cotton testing is much less than the time given even to conventionally bred varieties, said Mr Sharma."
India opens doors to GM crops
Dinesh Sharma, Bangkok Post, Monday 1 April

The Indian government has finally allowed the entry of transgenic or genetically modified crops into the country, in a decision that has been described by opposition groups as scientific fraud.

The Indian government has given the go-ahead to commercial release of three varieties of genetically modified (GM) cotton developed by the American multinational, Monsanto.

This could herald a new GM era in one of the largest but technologically backward agricultural systems in the world.

It is expected that the government may approve more GM crops such as soyabean and mustard in the near future.

The decision will have wider ramifications on farming in developing countries, as it may spur fence-sitters to join the GM race. Like in India's case, the lobby in favour of GM crops often cites the reported success of Bt cotton and other GM crops in China.

If China can do it, why not India, they argued. So, when India decides in favour of GM crops, others in Asia such as Thailand, might ask the same question: If India can do it, why not we?

It is obvious why Monsanto chose to launch its Bt cotton in India. India is the world's third largest cotton grower, producing 5.2 million tonnes a year compared with 14.6 million tonnes in China and 11 million tonnes in the United States.

But the productivity is low. Despite having the largest area in the world under cotton cultivation, India yields less than half the world average per hectare. Cotton accounts for roughly a third of its export earnings, either directly or indirectly, through clothes manufacture.

So, for Monsanto and its Indian partner, Mahyco, it could mean big business in the years to come.

One reason for low productivity is the loss due to pest attacks. In the past, huge losses due to attacks of American bollworm on cotton crops have led to suicides by hundreds of farmers in cotton growing areas of Andhra Pradesh state in South India. By inserting genes from a bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), into cotton seeds, Monsanto has developed new varieties that are claimed to be resistant to bollworm attacks.

But there is no guarantee that bollworm won't become resistant to Bt as well, as it had developed resistance to chemicals in the past, point out green campaigners. No doubt, farmers will reap benefits from Bt cotton in the initial few years, but they will again have to look for more potent varieties after the GM varieties too become ineffective to pest attacks.

This will propel Indian farmers into another debt trap in the years to come. There will be more suicides by cotton farmers, points out Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Bio-technology and Food Security, a New Delhi-based NGO.

Even Monsanto officials do not deny the fact that eventually resistance will develop.

In order to avoid Bt cotton from developing resistance, the Indian government has stipulated that farmers should leave about 20% of their area for non-Bt cotton. This is called "refuge area''. This means that only farmers with large holdings will be able to grow Bt cotton. It may be all right for American farmers who have large land holdings to leave aside refuge areas, says Mr Sharma. For Indian farmers who have holdings smaller than one hectare, it is not possible to practice this.

Regulations, too, may pose problems. The government says the responsibility to monitor Bt cotton fields and the compliance of the condition relating to the refuge area will be that of state governments and the seed company. Given poor literacy levels and the vast illegal market in spurious seeds and pesticides, it may be near impossible to monitor large number of cotton fields where Bt cotton may be sown.

Only recently, a local seed company in Gujarat state, Navabharat Seeds, could sell Bt cotton seeds to farmers without any government approval at all. The GM crops were successfully sown and Bt cotton arrived in the markets, exposing gaping holes in the regulatory mechanism.

Yet another danger is Bt cotton finding its way into the food chain - something which is not a possibility in other markets. India has the largest population of cattle in the world, and oil-cakes from cotton are used as cattle feed. Thus, through milk products, there is every danger of Bt genes reaching dining tables of Indians.

Surprisingly, labelling for products from Bt cotton has not been made mandatory. It will be necessary only for oil-cakes for export markets. Here the government has taken advantage of low consumer awareness and practically no resistance from consumer organisations to GM crops.

However, green groups have decided not to take the decision lying low and to pursue the battle in courts where the matter is already pending. They have questioned the very procedures of granting approvals and pointed holes in trials conducted by government agencies.

Against all scientific norms, the variety was approved on the basis of the data of one year only. Even this data is suspect as the government has refused to make the data public for independent scrutiny. This period of Bt cotton testing is much less than the time given even to conventionally bred varieties, said Mr Sharma.

Despite growing opposition, the government is likely to go ahead with GM crops, given the political support it is getting from some powerful farmer lobbies and an influential section of the scientific establishment.

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